Whither go our refuse?

Seneca Meadows, a huge landfill in the Finger Lakes, is the current destination for our trash. (photo by Will Dendis)

Ulster County has done a good job for the last 20 years of making the garbage go away. That’s all anyone wants, right, to make it disappear? And so it has — mainly, in recent years, to a landfill on the Waterloo-Seneca Falls border way out in central New York. But not here.

There’s only one problem with the whole operation. The revenues the county collects through its tipping fees for haulers and contracts with municipalities, once the debt service for what began as a $30 million debt and is now in the low $20s of millions is factored in, isn’t enough to keep the RRA in the black. The agency runs at a deficit of between $2 million and $3 million per year. Ulster County is responsible for this shortfall and must, according to its contract with the agency (a sort of quasi-authority that governs itself, though its board of directors is chosen by county government), see to it that the RRA breaks even by contributing what is called a “net service fee” — funding that has to be built into the county budget.

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Budgets being what they are these days, with 2 percent tax caps and multiple unfunded mandates being handed down by the state, it’s no wonder that County Executive Michael Hein would seek to find a way for the county not to have to tax its residents that $2 to $3 million Net Service Fee.

From such necessity springs “flow control.” If Hein’s plan, introduced in October along with his 2013 budget proposal, is adopted, the county, through the agency, would require that all trash generated within its borders is to be unloaded at the county facility in the Town of Ulster at RRA tipping fee rates — which stand at $100 per ton for residential and business self-haulers, and $83 per ton for licensed commercial haulers.

Current estimates are that the county now takes in 75 to 80 percent of Ulster’s solid waste. The rest is usually taken elsewhere by private haulers, such as Waste Management and County Waste (recently purchased by Waste Connections), who feel that they get a better deal at, for instance, their own landfills.

Flow control would bring in the last 20 percent, and the revenue gained from the per-ton tipping fees would ostensibly make up the gap. Plus, the county, which would no longer have to compete against out-of-county landfills for Ulster trash, could set its own rates, to make sure that the agency broke even. The RRA, according to Ulster County Comptroller Elliott Auerbach, took in $15,787,567 in 2010.

 

Decried as creating a monopoly

Needless to say, there are some critics of the plan. At a public hearing before the county legislature, which will be voting on the county executive’s flow control law on Tuesday, December 4, five out of nine speakers trashed the plan. Saugerties resident Terry Parisian called it an unfunded mandate and an obsolete management tool. “[The RRA] becomes a monopoly and an additional tax on residents. It evades the 2 percent tax cap,” he said. “There’s no reason for efficiency with a monopoly. When New Jersey dropped Flow Control, its fees dropped to $22 per ton.”

Ulster Park’s Sally Buboltz concurred. “I decided not to sit at home and have a hissy fit about this … I used to sit on 9W in traffic and watch the trucks go behind Lindy’s and then dump who knows what. There might be dead bodies in there. That’s going to happen again…The RRA finances are a disaster. We, the people, don’t like monopoly.”

And Steve Changaris, a spokesman for the National Solid Wastes Management Associations, representing private haulers, including Waste Management and Waste Connections, called it more a licensing agreement. “The haulers are locked into 5- to 10-year contracts…the licensing part is a cost-driver, routing is a paperwork nightmare,” he said, referring to the proposed law’s requirement that all routes be monitored by GPS, and that all route changes be reported to the RRA. “The routes can change everyday…”

He suggested that there could be a lawsuit in the offing should the county enact the plan.

There are 5 comments

  1. Derek

    Annoying that you posted the article on the 5th, which made a great case why people should get involved prior to a decision being made. But at the end is the footnote that the vote is “on the 4th” (ie, in the past), so nobody can actually do anything about it.

      1. Derek

        This newspaper might be the only one on the planet that has the online edition trailing BEHIND the print version.

        Kiiiinda ridiculous. Shows exactly why newspapers are failing all over the place, though.

        1. Will Dendis

          That would imply that those who put more content on their websites sooner are doing well. That has not been the case for small-market newspapers.

          As I’m sure you are aware, online advertising is worth at-best a penny for every dime of print advertising. The numbers are worse for small markets because the view total is relatively small by web standards. Even if our tech savvy young readers believe we’re ridiculous, and we believe we’re ridiculous, you’d still need to convince the advertisers that they’re ridiculous.

          So if you were running things, and almost all your money came from print advertising, what would you then do? Invest more in the web, posting every story to it ASAP? First, you’d have to pay someone to do that, it takes time. What the result be? Greater web traffic and reduced print circulation. You’d be spending more to increase the attraction of a medium where income potential is 1/10 the income potential of the other medium which you’d be devaluing by making it an afterthought. You’d be acting on the belief that change was inevitable, but there’s the stubborn matter of timing. What other business would be urged to devalue the source of 90% of their income? When is the right time to do this? We must not be there yet because it keeps failing.

          It’s a sound business practice to invest according to return – so if the web will return 10%, we’ll put 10% of the content on it and spend 10% of payroll on it. If the proportions change and some small market newspaper somewhere starts making enough money to sustain an editor, a handful of reporters and a photographer based on web money, everyone will instantly make the switch. The reason newspapers are failing is because this has not worked anywhere yet.

          The consideration isn’t entirely financial. We actually believe the print product is worth more. Readers today have too many distractions. We don’t think the web is a very good environment for extended reading. We’re trying to offer a mix of the digest (a briefing of news happening in town and the region) and long, detailed stories. If you pick up the actual newspaper, there is a sequence to it that’s conducive to understanding. (Think concept album vs. sliced and diced singles on iTunes.) You can find all the relevant stories about your town in one place, rather than hunt around on a website for the right link or menu. (Though the web is great as a repository for old stories readers may have missed.) You can read a long story without being tempted to click on something else. It’s just easier to concentrate.

          I’m willing to believe that the strategy is wrong. But so far, all the other strategies have been wrong, too.

  2. Derek

    “First, you’d have to pay someone to do that, it takes time.”

    You’re already paying a reporter to type that story into a computer to get laid-out and typeset for the print edition. Having that story also then go, once in electronic form, to the web, takes next to no time at all. If it DOES take some horrifically long time to copy-paste the material from one system to another, or some such, then that’s a problem with your internal work-flow, not the medium as a whole.

    “The consideration isn’t entirely financial. We actually believe the print product is worth more.”

    Wow! … just… wow.

    OK, see that’s just an epic failure to understand the market you operate within. If the market forces are telling you ANYTHING, it’s that the dead-tree editions of newspapers become less and less valuable every single day. People simply don’t want to wait until an appointed time to learn only that news which was available at a deadline hours or even days before.

    That’s not “news” in the modern sense.

    Of course, you’re setting out to try and *make* that true. By publishing news stories on the web after their useful life has ended, you’re trying to artificially prop up the “value proposition” of the print edition. But, amusingly, it only show you as more out of touch, because you’re betting the farm, as it were, on the model that every single financial analyst says is going to eventually go the way of the do-do.

    “If you pick up the actual newspaper, there is a sequence to it that’s conducive to understanding. (Think concept album vs. sliced and diced singles on iTunes.)”

    Here’s a tip: You’re not Rush. You’re not in the business of creating concept albums of information. You’re in the business of writing news articles and they SHOULD be able to stand independently of each other. I don’t have to read the New York Times cover to cover in order for it to be “conducive to understanding”.

    “I’m willing to believe that the strategy is wrong. But so far, all the other strategies have been wrong, too.”

    Well, clutching onto the known-to-be-dying part of the market-segment, while squarely shooting in the head and devaluing the market-segment that will almost certainly be 100% of your business within a couple decades, seems to be squarely TRYING to destroy the business.

    But … hey, it’s your business to run as you see fit.

    Good luck with that.

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